Rural Areas In Great Plains Caught Between 'Bookend Generations'

Rural Areas In Great Plains Caught Between 'Bookend Generations'

Report by Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs shows youth and elderly hold their own, but rural areas lag in working-age young adults.

A Center for Rural Affairs report released today finds that rural areas in the Great Plains

and Midwest continue to lose population and are caught between  "bookend generations"--the youngest and the oldest--with a demographic valley in between. 

"Increasingly, rural America's greatest exports are our young people. We send them off to college and hope they return home after graduation, and often they want to return but if the jobs and economic opportunity are not here they will be drawn to the opportunity and bright lights of the city," says Jon Bailey, Research Director of the Center for Rural Affairs and author of the report.

The center is based in Lyons.

The distribution of population by age further demonstrates what is happening to population in rural areas of the region, Bailey adds. Rural areas hold their own with urban areas in proportion of population of their youngest residents. But as the youngest residents turn 20 and age into their 30s and mid-40s, the prime working years, rural populations compared to urban populations begin to lag. This is a significant illustration

of the lack of economic opportunities in many rural places in the region.

The report, "Age Distribution on the Great Plains," is the second in a series of briefs examining data from the 2010 Census. The analysis covers a 10-state region that includes Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and selected counties in Colorado, Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded at:

"The age distribution of the region's population has significant implications for the region both immediately and in the long-term," explains Bailey. "The relative youth of the urban areas of the region affects the economics of the entire region. Investment to create economic opportunities is likely to flow into urban areas of the region to capitalize on the youth and education of there. Conversely, the aging of rural areas of the region--nearly half of the rural population is 45 years of age and older--and the relatively large population of the youngest residents means rural areas must focus on a different set of issues that are critical to those 'bookend generations' such as health care and education."

In order to reverse rural America's "brain drain" trend, it is crucial for rural communities and public policy to find new, innovative ways to create rural economic opportunities and revitalize rural economies," says Bailey.

A 2007 Center for Rural Affairs analysis claims that USDA and Congress have over-subsidized the biggest and most powerful farms while y under-investing in rural economic development, spending twice as much on subsidizing the 20 largest farms in each of 13 leading farm states as it invested in rural development programs to create economic opportunity for millions of people in thousands of towns in the 20 rural counties with the most out-migration in each respective state.

The Center for Rural Affairs proposes that instead of continuing the Brain Drain trend, a Rural Renewal Initiative should be created in the next farm bill and Congress should commit $500 million over five years to a Community Prosperity Fund that the secretary of agriculture could spend in existing rural development programs. New opportunities are arising all the time in broadband, renewable energy, food systems and

ecotourism, and this investment could breathe new life and capital into communities suffering population loss, Bailey says.

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